Copyright 2016 by Chrissy Peebles
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.
With Danny at her side, and her newfound powers growing, Blair feels like she should be okay. Heck, she even has a—sort of—friendship going with Tori, her long-lost half sister. Tori might be an assassin, but she draws the line at killing family, and she’s willing to help Blair with something no one else would: taking down Vlad the Impaler, legendary vampire and all-around bad guy extraordinaire. Just one problem, though: he’s also their father.
Blair knows that time is running out, and when Tori arrives with the story of an ancient artifact that could protect her, she sets off to search for it. She’s sure that she’s just keeping herself safe while she prepares for her fight with Vlad—but it soon becomes clear that every step she takes, every enemy she defeats, is just bringing her closer to the inevitable showdown…
The sounds of bird calls echoed through the canopy of trees, and sunlight dappled the deck, playing over my bare feet as I sat stretched out on one of the lounge chairs. The scene was such a picture-perfect family vacation, with the smell of pancakes coming from inside and the grill just waiting for hot dogs and hamburgers later in the day, that I could hardly reconcile it with the conversation that was taking place.
“There’s no way,” Danny said, for what seemed like the hundredth time. His plate of blueberry pancakes lay abandoned, and he was frowning at Tori. “Those things never work.”
“Those things,” Tori mused. She made finger quotes in the air and then gave him a look. “Those things like…witchcraft?”
“You know what I mean.”
“No. I don’t. You’re a witch, Danny, and you think enchanted amulets aren’t real?”
Danny’s head turned sharply, his eyes meeting mine. His ancestry was a closely-guarded secret. In public, he only admitted to being a werewolf, something that had kept him and his brother safe from other werewolves trying to keep the bloodline pure—or, as had happened to me, members of his bloodline’s coven trying to come after him for the unpredictability of his powers. The fact was, Danny was just like me: powers under control (though his were better trained), and perfectly able to be a member of polite society. But a secret like that could be used against him, and of all the people he wanted to find it out, a woman who’d been one of Vlad the Impaler’s top assassins was probably not on the list.
I shook my head. “I didn’t tell her.”
“I can smell it on you,” Tori said. “Witches always have the same smell.” When he paled, she rolled her eyes. “Don’t worry, most people can’t. Vlad never could. I’m sure he has more witch children he never knew about. He hates witches—in theory. But he ends up screwing an awful lot of them.”
I wrinkled my nose. Vlad might not be a father in any sort of traditional way—like, say, not trying to kill me brutally or draw me into a ring of mass-murderers—but I still didn’t want to hear about his sex life.
“Anyway,” Tori said, drawing us all back to the point at hand. “The amulet is real.”
“How can you possibly know that?” Danny gave her a look.
“I read,” Tori said, with great dignity.
“If it can do what you say, why isn’t it being used?” I asked reasonably. Tori had shown up about an hour ago with stories of an amulet that could protect me from our father, and while I was happy enough to have it, as well as oddly pleased that she seemed to be looking out for me, I had some questions of my own.
“The temple it’s in is abandoned.” Tori shrugged.
“Well, why was it abandoned? Because it seems to me, if you’ve got something that powerful, you don’t just…leave it there when you leave the temple. Either it can only be used by a few people, or there’s something wrong with it.”
“Like a curse,” Danny chimed in.
“First you don’t believe in it, now you think it’s cursed?” Tori raised an eyebrow at him. “The amulet is fine. There’s no mention of a curse in anything I’ve read. It protects against vampires.”
“And you don’t think there will be any sort of conflict with the fact that Blair is half-vampire?”
“Maybe if she tries to hurt herself.” Tori seemed amused. Her smile faded when Danny didn’t return it. “Seriously, dude, what is your problem with this? I’m not trying to screw her over. She’s my sister.”
“Maybe that seems like a weird line in the sand for you,” Danny shot back.
She was up in his face a moment later, crouching over the chair as she looked into his eyes. “I never hurt family unless they try to take me out.”
“Blair did try to kill you that one time.” He wasn’t cowed.
“Because I was coming after her with weapons. I’m not going to hold that against her.” She jabbed a finger at his chest. “So you shut the hell up about my loyalties. I would never hurt her…unless she started siding with Vlad.”
“Fine.” Danny pushed her off him. “But that doesn’t change the fact that what she should be doing is learning her magic here, where it’s safe. She doesn’t need to go traipsing off after some mythical amulet in…whatever, some jungle somewhere. Or is it in a museum? Do we need to do a jewel heist?”
“I told you. Temple.”
“Fine, so it’s Tomb Raider instead of Ocean’s 11. Still stupid.”
“Hang on.” I put my hands up to keep them both from speaking. I’d thought it was a good idea to let them get their jabs out early, but it had been a while and we were getting nowhere with the two of them at each other’s throats. “So, Tori. This amulet. Who made it? How does it work?”
“I don’t know how it works.” Tori shook her head. “I don’t really know anything about spells. Maybe this one will be able to tell you,” she added grudgingly, jerking her head at Danny. “All I know is that it was made by a coven of witches. They disappeared a while back, no one knows how, but before they did, they built a temple in Tibet.”
“It’s not exactly a weird place for a coven. Very remote. Not a lot of connection to the outside world unless you’re in one of the major cities. It’s hard to hide in Europe or America. But Tibet…”
“Tibet.” Danny was frowning. “I could swear I heard something…” His frown deepened and he shook his head. “I can’t remember it. Damn. Sorry. But that doesn’t change anything. Blair has spent her whole life not just not being taught about her powers, but actively being taught not to use them. She can’t take on Vlad like this.”
“I know other things,” I pointed out. “It’s not like I know nothing.”
“I know you do.” He looked over at me and his face softened. “You know how to heal. You’ve learned about science. Most witches never do.” He reached over to squeeze my hand. “It’s remarkable.”
“Touching.” Tori’s voice was like acid. “But we still need to get the amulet.”
“We don’t. We don’t need Blair going anywhere until she’s figured out her magic. And that could take months.”
“Months in which Vlad is almost certain to find out where she is,” Tori pointed out brutally. “You think you’re safe out here? I found this place on my own. And I’m good. I’m one of the best. But Vlad collects the best. He’s not going to rest with Blair out here. He’s going to try and track her down, and kill her before she reaches her full strength—or at the very least, kidnap her and try to turn her to his side.”
“He wouldn’t.” My blood ran cold. The thought of Vlad bending me to his will, holding me in a cage and working on my mind until my very sense of reality warped, was so vivid that for a moment I thought I was going to throw up. “I can’t…I can’t…”
“He’s not going to get that chance,” Tori said, almost gently. Her voice hardened. “Because you’re going to go get that amulet and stay safe.”
“No, she’s not,” Danny insisted. “She goes back out into the real world, and he’ll pick up her trail in a second. He’s going to be watching for her to try to run.”
“Actually,” Tori said, grinning, “I think he’s betting on her being just as pigheadedly stubborn as you are. All of our family tries to throw themselves headfirst at things they don’t have the strength to fight. She’d already have gone after him if you hadn’t been keeping her here and softening her up with all your…distractions.”
I blushed a fiery red. The fact that Danny seemed to be able to make me weak at the knees just by looking at me was something I didn’t really want my sister to know. Her laugh only made me blush harder.
“Anyway,” she said, the laugh still lurking in her voice, “what she needs to do is have protection in case he comes for her while she’s learning the ropes. So.” With a glare at Danny, she unrolled a map.
It was new, an almost photorealistic view of Tibet, and somehow that seemed incredibly funny to me. We were searching for ancient amulets—shouldn’t we have an ancient map?
Tori just shook her head at my giggle. “There isn’t a treasure map to this thing. It’s just a reference in some old books.”
“Wait…” Danny was staring at the map, his fingers tracing over mountain ranges. “Wait.” He opened his mouth to speak, and then pushed himself up and disappeared into the house.
Tori looked over her shoulder and then shrugged. “Okay, so there’s a set of tunnels somewhere around…here.” She tapped at the map. “You’ll need to follow them down. They’re close to the base of one of the mountains, and they’ll be well-hidden. Whoever these witches were trying to escape, they did a damned good job of it.”
“Not forever, apparently,” I pointed out. “Why did they leave this place? It’s not filled with…giant spiders or anything, is it?”
“Not giant spiders,” Danny said. He had returned, holding an old, leather-bound book, and he dropped it unceremoniously on the map, pointing at a paragraph in almost indecipherable script. “Hellhounds.”
I didn’t have the first idea what he was talking about, but Tori pressed her lips together, swallowing uncomfortably.
“See?” Danny pressed. “Not a good idea.”
“What are hellhounds?” I asked.
“Hellhounds,” Danny pronounced, sitting back down with a glare at Tori, “are part dog, part bear, part human, part…demon.” He shook his head, his features contorting. “They’re nearly impossible to kill, they’re strong as hell, and they’re vicious. Oh, and they’re territorial. If they claimed that place, you can be damned sure they haven’t given it up.”
“It’s got to have been centuries since they were there,” I tried.
“He’s right,” Tori said glumly. “They’re probably sill there.”
“Is the amulet?”
“Quite possibly.” She met my eyes. “And I still think you should go.”
“You can’t be serious!” Danny jabbed his finger at the book. “Hellhounds. Hellhounds.”
“Vlad the Impaler,” Tori responded, unimpressed.
Danny collapsed back into the chair and groaned, his hands over his face.
“Okay, say I decided to go.” I leaned over, tapping him on the arm.
“Why did I know you were going to say that?” His voice was muffled. He didn’t look at me.
“Say I did. What kind of magic could defeat the hellhounds?”
He rolled his head to look at me. “You’re impossible, you know that?”
“Yeah, well, it takes a special kind of person to go after Vlad the Impaler. So. Magic.”
He sighed. “You’d need to learn warding,” he said finally. “And…more than just the lightning. I can think of a couple of things. But,” he added, as I lit up, “I’m going with you. And you’re staying here until I think you know that magic well enough for us to have a fighting chance.”
He gave Tori a look, clearly blaming her for this state of events, and she only smiled, sleek and self-satisfied as a cat that has the cream. She stood, stretching, and zipped her leather coat up.
“And when you get back, I’ll see about introducing you to the other sisters.”
“There are other sisters?” I sat bolt upright.
“When you get back?” Tori repeated, unconcerned. She smiled at Danny, showing teeth. “I’ll show myself out.”
And she was gone. Danny sat back with a groan, and I reached over to tap him on the shoulder.
“Hey. It’s going to be okay.”
“You two will be the death of me.” It was a weak joke, and his smile was gone almost instantly. He reached over to clasp my hand. “Blair, promise me you’ll take this seriously. Hellhounds are nothing to joke about.”“I promise,” I said. But as he settled back in his chair, I knew that I didn’t have the first idea what I was promising. Suddenly, the world didn’t seem like a place where I was supposed to fight Vlad, but a place that was full of dangerous things that might kill me before I could face him again.
End of sample.
I don't have a release date yet. But I'm half way done. : )